At his meeting with top US officials later this week, Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash is set to send across a strong message on the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft offer. Accompanied by his military advisor, Capt A.K. Chawla, Adm Prakash is likely to tell US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that while the Indian Navy is serious about acquiring a fleet of 10 P-3C Orions, what is necessary is a compromise between the Pentagon’s constraints and the Indian Government’s demands.
The Pentagon has not confirmed whether Adm Prakash will meet Rumsfeld, but the Navy Chief has said a meeting has been scheduled. On Tuesday, Adm Prakash met his US counterpart Admiral Vern Clark at the Washington Navy Yard.
A senior Naval officer told Express, ‘‘Our chief is on a routine visit. But if he meets the US Defence Secretary, in all possibility, he will communicate both our interest and the perception that there needs to be an understanding between the two sides on the issue. Obviously, in this day and age, the chiefs have greater diplomatic roles to play.’’
On March 18, Adm Prakash had told Express, ‘‘My US visit is a routine one. Chiefs do not inspect offers, there are other officers for that. I will be visiting the Pentagon and will meet Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and possibly discuss the offers that Washington has made.’’
India has stuck to its stand that the Pentagon should provide a written assurance on after-sale service, supply of spares and maintenance for the Orions. However, a US Government legislation does not allow any such guarantee to another country.
The Orion issue has acquired much significance, especially with the Pentagon expressing keenness to sell a fleet to Pakistan too.
Acquiring the fleet is important for the Navy as it has problems with its existing fleet of maritime surveillance aircraft. Besides, the upgrade programme for its Goa-based squadron of Ilyushin-38s has failed to come up to the mark. And a plan to upgrade the eight Arakonam-based Tupolev-142 reconnaissance planes has been hanging fire.